Kenney weighs in on Toll Bros. project on Jewelers Row

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A controversial proposal to build a condo tower on Philadelphia's historic Jewelers Row is now getting a response from Mayor Jim Kenney.

Toll Brothers wants to demolish several properties to make room for a 16-story, residential building on Sansom Street.

But thousands of people have signed a petition against the project, and they are calling on city leaders to protect the historic business community.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Wednesday he shares the frustration of those seeking historical protection of the existing buildings, but conceding.

"The Toll Brothers are within their right. If we we were to attempt to retroactively reverse that, we would be sued and we would lose," said Mayor Jim Kenney.

So Kenney asked the Horsham-based builder for a plan to preserve the existing building's facades.

"To try to keep the integrity of the first, second and third floors intact," said Kenney.

How did the mayor's hat-in-hand appeal play among those fighting the Toll project?

"It gives me no comfort whatsoever. I call it the facade charade. What about the tax-paying citizens who are working here everyday?" said Frank Schaffer, FGS Gems.

Frank Schaffer's point: The facades just window dressing.

Destroyed will be back offices where people actually manufacture jewelry. Opponents say the loss of those jobs will hurt the row's economy.

Not everyone shares that view.

Action News spoke with a man who owns three of the buildings in the crosshairs. He argues business is off along the row, due to the internet and other things, and the tower would be a shot in the arm for remaining merchants increasing foot traffic to past levels.

"Maybe back to where it was 10 years ago, with the people coming down from the building coming down to spend the money with us, and people can afford to do something," said Roberto Pupo, building owner.

Kenney says the company has promised to maintain Jewelers Row as a "cultural gem for future generations."

Meanwhile, City Council is working on legislation to protect the city's other historical buildings.
Copyright © 2019 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.